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The image at the far left is by the painter Velázquez; it’s a depiction (c.1650) of Mars, the Roman god of war. Next to this image is a photograph by Joel Meyerowitz of a welder working in the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. These images appear in the first chapter of Lawrence Weschler‘s Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences. I’ve posted to Google Docs this chapter, which is titled “Echoes at Ground Zero.” The chapter presents a conversation between Weschler and Meyerowitz about the relationship between Meyerowitz’s photographs and earlier works of art.

“What is fascinating to me here,” Weschler says about the photograph of the welder, “is that we’re playing off the Velázquez of Mars with his tool and his helmet and his mustache — I don’t want to suggest or insist that you had this specific thing in your head, but you too are treating this worker as a kind of god or a personage of great nobility.”

“I was just going to say that he was noble,” Meyerowitz responds. “The reason I saw him as noble was that he came up the road bend here, and I saw him, and we had just heard a bugler playing taps, and there were eight of us standing around and we were all in tears and as he came up to me I saw this little glint of a tear in his eye — you can see it in the photograph, he’s slightly dewey-eyed. And as he came forward, I just felt the power of this man and his nobility, and I stepped in front of him and just made a photograph. We didn’t have much of an interaction. He really didn’t even pose for me, he just stopped walking. And then I asked him something and he laughed and he said, ‘I was just wounded today. I was burning the steel and I exploded some ammunition that was buried.’ He said, ‘A piece of bullet shell hit me in the face and I got five stitches under here.’ He laughed. He laughed. And then he just stood there and I made this picture and I realized he is heroic.'”

I’ve been interested for a long time in the complex relationship between suffering and beauty in art and the ways in which the rendering of emotional anguish can be at the very core of what is beautiful about a particular work — or even a particular kind of work. In music, for example, folk musics such as fado, flamenco, and blues all frequently blend love, loss, grief, and the erotic. The beauty of such works — both in their music and in their lyrics — is intertwined with how sad (or melancholy or tortured or inconsolable or blue) they are.

In preparing a talk about this idea and its relationship to my own creative work, I used Weschler’s idea of exploring visual “convergences” to depict the remarkable ways that images of flamenco, fado, and blues artists echo the depictions of St. Sebastian‘s suffering in great paintings. At left, a painting of Sebastian is paired with a publicity photograph of the great fadista Mariza. Below is another depiction of Sebastian beside a photograph of a flamenco dancer. All four of these images depict figures that seem to possess a complex array of qualities: beauty, suffering, nobility, grace, interiority.

These visual “convergences” also ask us to consider the complex relationships between different types of art from different cultures and the various threads — thematic, emotional, visual, historic — that they seem to share.

Here is the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca discussing the qualities of a particular kind of flamenco song. Notice the echoes of St. Sebastian in his description as well as his mingling of the erotic and the beautiful with pain and suffering:

“The Gypsy siguiriya begins with a terrible scream that divides the landscape into two ideal hemispheres. It is the scream of dead generations, a poignant elegy for lost centuries, the pathetic evocation of love under other moons and other winds…

“The finest degrees of Sorrow and Pain, in the service of the purest, most exact expression, pulse through the tercets and quatrains of the siguiriya and its derivatives…

“It is song without landscape, withdrawn into itself and terrible in the dark. Deep song shoots its arrows of gold right into our heart. In the dark it is a terifying blue archer whose quiver is never empty.”

2 Responses to “Convergences”

  1. […] considering that she credits faeries in her liner notes, but it also seems that perhaps the sort of convergences that we discussed at the beginning of the course are at work here, just as they were when Peter […]

  2. […] considering that she credits faeries in her liner notes, but it also seems that perhaps the sort of convergences that we discussed at the beginning of the course are at work here, just as they were when Peter […]